JACKSON — Almost 18 years to the day of his election as Union University’s 15th president, David S. Dockery bade farewell to the institution in an emotional address Dec. 5 to university trustees, administrators, and community leaders.
Dockery was originally scheduled to give a final report to trustees during their Dec. 6 meeting. That meeting, however, was canceled due to inclement weather. So instead, Dockery used a reception held in his honor in the Carl Grant Events Center to recap his 18 years as Union president, thank those who have encouraged and supported him, and announce his parting gifts to the university.
“We are so thankful, from the bottom of our hearts, that you have given us the privilege to be a part of this incredible institution for 18 years,” Dockery said. “We are overwhelmed when we stop and reflect upon what has happened during these years.”
In January, Dockery announced his intentions to step down from the presidency and assume the position of chancellor no later than July 2014. He said Thursday that he had decided the chancellor’s position would be only an honorary role.
Though he will still technically be the university president until June, Dockery said his final months in that position will most likely be spent preparing to transition to new opportunities. The search committee expects to name a new president early in 2014, and Dockery said he wants to give that person the freedom to begin crafting a new administration.
In the days ahead, he plans to provide ongoing consultation with a Christian publisher while participating more with the Manhattan Declaration project. He will also continue his role as adviser and mentor for some young college and seminary presidents. In addition, Dockery expects to make another announcement soon about his upcoming plans.
Prior to Dockery’s final address at the reception, the university showed a video honoring him for his contributions to Union, with comments from such people as Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Carl Zylstra, former president of Dordt College; Randy C. Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention; and several Union faculty, staff, and alumni.
“There are some leaders who really have the ability to be good scholars,” Zylstra said in the video. “There are some leaders who have the ability to be great managers. There are some leaders who have the ability to show devout inspiration that’s contagious to the entire organization.
“To find all those qualities in one person, the way they are exhibited and embodied in David Dockery, is truly amazing,” Zylstra continued. “It’s been a blessing and an inspiration to dozens of colleges and universities across the United States and even around the world.”
Justin Barnard, associate professor of philosophy at Union, said in the video that Dockery would not want his legacy to be all about him, but about what God has done and will do at Union.
“He himself would want students and faculty and staff and administration and donors to be optimistic about the future,” Barnard said. “And the reason he would want them to be optimistic about the future is the great God that we serve.”
During his remarks, Dockery cited several accomplishments during his administration, including the establishment of Union’s mission statement, core values, and confession of faith, development of the physical campus, enrollment increases, growth of faculty scholarship, national recognitions, and many others.
He recalled the first interview he did after his election as Union’s president on Dec. 9, 1995, in which he was asked where he would like to see Union at the end of his presidential tenure.
“I would like to see a university with a great faculty committed to excellence in teaching, research, publication, and service,” he answered. “I would like to see a staff that cares for and enables students. I would like to see a campus with quality facilities that are beautiful and aesthetically pleasing as well.
“I would like to see a university that serves as a resource to businesses, to the world of health care and education and to churches all across the United States. I hope that Union will be a shaper of Christian higher education throughout the nation.”
The answer contained several other objectives that Dockery said, “By God’s grace, we have come pretty close to seeing a lot of those things happen.”
He also credited his colleagues for being the major force behind those successes.
“What all of you have done has been commendable work in every facet of institutional life,” Dockery said. “Thank you for allowing Lanese and me to be cheerleaders and ambassadors for what has taken place here.”
Beyond this semester, the three tasks that remain for Dockery as Union’s president are to welcome the new president and help that person through the leadership transition, to preside over the May graduation ceremony, and to return to campus in the summer of 2015 for the dedication of Union’s new library.
“The future of Union, from where I sit, looks very bright,” he said. “Union’s in as strong of a position as it has ever been in its history in every institutional category. It’s poised for a great future and positive impact on the church and society in the days ahead with the right leader.”
As he and First Lady Lanese Dockery complete their time at Union, Dockery presented four gifts to the university.
In honor of the Union trustees, he and Lanese made a gift to the new library. Dockery announced that construction on the new facility, which has been delayed due to design issues, will begin in March, with an estimated completion date of June 2015.
In honor of the president’s cabinet, the Dockerys have funded a lecture series at Union, called the Christian Intellectual Tradition Lectures.
“This series will allow us to bring the very best Christian thinkers to this campus for years to come,” Dockery said.
To honor Melanie Rickman, who spent nine years as his executive secretary, Dockery established the Melanie Rickman Scholarship at Union for students from West Tennessee who feel called into global missions. Rickman’s brother, Benny Petty, is a 1973 Union grad and spent several years as a missionary in Hong Kong. Dockery said the fund would assist students like him who want to take the gospel to the nations.
To honor Cindy Meredith, who has been Dockery’s executive assistant for his entire tenure at Union (as well as four years previously during his vice presidency at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), the Dockerys have established a fund that will provide financial aid to student workers in Union’s administrative offices, with those workers carrying the title of Meredith Fellows.
“Some have said that I’m codependent on Cindy, but that would give me far too much credit,” Dockery said. “Simply said, Cindy Meredith is incredible.”
Jessica Vinyard, a Union freshman from Galatia, Ill., who works in the president’s office, will be the first recipient of the Meredith Fellow Scholarship for the 2014-2015 academic year.
Dockery thanked several groups and individuals for the roles they played in his administration, which approximates each of the tenures of George Savage, Warren Jones, and Robert Craig as the longest in Union’s history.
“To all of you who have given us this amazing opportunity, we are grateful beyond explanation,” he said.
“The only words we can say are ‘Thanks be to God.’ ”